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SafeLives domestic abuse conferenceAt our conference last week, we asked leaders from across the sector to pitch their ideas for getting it right first time for victims and families. Becky Rogerson from My Sister’s Place in Middlesbrough told us about how she would prioritise work with perpetrators.

Doing nothing is no longer an option. 

We have been dealing with domestic abuse since 1975 when first refuges were established. We have developed our understanding over the last 40 years around prevalence, manifestation and, importantly, about the impact of abuse. We have learned that the impact is even more harmful than first realised - for the direct victim, for children, for families, and for communities. With this knowledge, we have set to work to find ways to alleviate the symptoms – and we have some effective strategies with which to do this – from refuges to outreach support, counselling, Idvas, specialist courts, Maracs, Mashs and other hubs. These approaches, I would argue, ‘work’ in identifying those most at risk and reducing the harm. Statistically, however, these approaches are measured against the prevalence of domestic abuse. In effect, this is measuring victim services against the behaviour of perpetrators – a large heterogeneous group of individuals that we apply, what I call, a ‘sandbag approach’ to. It’s like having a major leak and stacking sandbags to re-direct the flow whilst we get on with clearing up the harm.

Nationally, what do we have in place for perpetrators? Some prevention work happens in schools about positive relationships but provision is patchy – then a yawning chasm until the 'perpetrator' appears on a police report or safeguarding referral. By this time, the problem may be entrenched and the response is expensive – police, CPS, courts, probation, victim services, 30 week programmes, safeguarding plans, multi-agency meetings, prison. And even where all these options are used, the data still shows high repeat rates.

So what needs to happen? We need a community-based prevention approach. If we are to hold perpetrators to account, we need to know which ones and how, as the prospect of all perpetrators heading toward the Criminal Justice System is not realistic.

We need an accessible, flexible and responsive perpetrator service that provides:

  • Initial assessment: that informs agency action
  • Information sharing to support Marac and safeguarding processes
  • Practical help and support to perpetrators that seek help and/or are at risk of escalation
  • Education: for example on the powers of the courts, and likely consequences of breaching protective orders or further incidents (the slope that takes some perpetrators unwittingly into the criminal process).

We now have a broad definition of domestic abuse that covers a wide range of behaviours and we need to think about education, enabling perpetrators to make informed choices at an early stage (rather than assuming they have already made a choice to be abusive). We need to make use of some the techniques we use to encourage victims to seek help and start to engage with perpetrators more effectively – perpetrators do not live on Mars – they are with us in our workplaces, in our families, and in our social circles. There are numerous opportunities to understand and influence the direction of travel. I believe we have a range of different perpetrators that could be thought about as on a ‘spectrum’ in terms of their behaviour and risk; an early opportunity to change, to reflect on their behaviour and make informed decisions about their future is a gap that needs filling. If this approach could change the course of only 10% of perpetrators, we could reduce the human cost of domestic abuse in thousands of families, save lives, and save millions of pounds to the public purse.